How can Scotland improve against Argentina?

Scotland put in a strong performance against Australia in the opening Autumn Test. Despite that, and only being behind for 4 minutes, they couldn’t quite make it over the line for victory. So where can they do better this weekend?

Fix the restarts

It’s been painfully obvious for a while now that Scotland struggle with kick-offs and Saturday was no exception. Dark blue jerseys claimed just 1 out of 5 Australian restarts. Even allowing for Israel Folau’s incredible athleticism this simply wasn’t good enough. The errors theselves only lead directly to 3 points (less than scrums – 6 points; and lineouts from penalties – 14 points) but what really hurt Scotland were the lost opportunities to gain possession and territory. Increasing the number of players attacking the 10-metre line may discourage the opposition from kicking short but requires everyone to drop deep quickly if the ball does go long.

Scotland could also do with winning some of their own restarts. Only 1 of 6 was contestable and even with just 3 minutes left on the clock they went long rather than trusting they could beat Australia in the air.

Execute the exit strategy

After Jonny Gray’s try, Scotland spent most of the next 30 minutes pinned in their own half. During that period Australia turned the ball over no less than 10 times. The dark blues only managed a strong exit (making it over halfway) on 4 occasions. Another 4 kicks were short and ultimately just invited the Ozzie attack back on to an increasingly desperate and tired defence. There was a Bernard Foley up and under which should have been claimed – but wasn’t.

Also, on a Scotland put-in, there was the scrum penalty that put the visitors within striking distance. In addition the home team conceded the softest of penalties, straying offside at the Australians’ penultimate lineout. This was the error that provided the field position for Kuridrani’s try. Against Argentina it’s crucial that Scotland force the Pumas to start any attacking play from as deep as possible.

The Scottish defence will be far more comfortable containing the opposition in midfield than pressed back in their own 22.

Make good decisions every time

Hindsight is always 20/20 and sometimes it can be easy to label as wrong an option taken with the best of intentions. That said the only way to improve is to analyse these moments after the fact and there were a number of times when Scotland appeared to miss the best choice.

Examples included: Laidlaw’s decision to take on a penalty at the edge of his range with Russell and Hogg available; opting for the scrum instead of the lineout when Hodge knocked the ball into touch (leading to Foley’s first penalty); choosing to tap and go after allowing the Australian forwards to get set on the last play of the game. A scrum would have tied in the Ozzie pack – and given a 50/50 shot at a penalty if there had been more setpiece shenanigans. As it was the green and gold defence was able to spread out across the pitch and was never really stretched in those final phases. Even Huw Jones’s second try came at the expense of Hardie and Maitland having an overlap on the other wing.

To win these close games Scotland have to be making the optimal choice as often as possible. This likely means more preparing for in-game situations and taking mental fatigue into account in substitutions.

Power up the maul

The dummy maul at the lineout then move the ball away from contact was the go-to option against Australia. On the couple of occasions Scotland did try and muscle their way forward the Ozzies managed to drop the catcher before the maul could get going. Wales were successful with 9 mauls out of 9 against Argentina who really struggled to deal with this tactic. Scotland’s opponents on Saturday only won the ball back once from the 4 occasions they themselves took it in.

This was partly a result of not using the maul to any great extent themselves and partly due to Wales zeroing in on isolated players with choke tackles. Allied to a potentially indisciplined Argentinian tight 5 this could be a fruitful area for the home side to target this weekend.

Have a drop goal threat

There were 2 periods of play when any kind of score would most likely have won the game for Scotland. The first was their only excursion into the Australian 22 in the last half hour – a drop goal would have taken the side 2 scores clear. The second was that final play of the match with time expired. The big issue for Scotland was none of the outside backs have ever kicked a DG in their professional club careers, let alone on the international stage.

Greig Laidlaw had notched a drop before but the last of his 3 came some 4 seasons ago for Edinburgh and at scrum half he wasn’t in any position to take that kind of opportunity. It’s another reason why introducing Ali Price for that frantic last few minutes may have been beneficial. He could have provided a higher tempo; crisper passing; and allowed Laidlaw to take up a position where a drop goal may have been a viable option. Taking an early 3 points against Argentina would give their defence something else to worry about. It would also provide Scotland with another way to keep the scoreboard moving; it is vital to avoid a dogfight.

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

9 comments on “How can Scotland improve against Argentina?

  1. David B on

    Great article again Kevin. I previously posted on twitter that I would love to see Scotland bring in specialist coaches to help with the restarts and mauls in much the same way that Richie Gray was brought in for mauls. I wonder if this is something that Townsend might look at, as he has always been a keen proponent of more unusual coaching experiences. I think there would, in particular, be some real knowledge to be gained from Aussie Rules and Gaelic Footie coaches, where aerial prowess is of even more importance than rugby.

  2. Scotsman on

    On the drop goals…

    I don’t think Laidlaw would have been able to sink a drop goal with the field position we had. What we needed was for some sniping from 9 to keep them honest and make ground. See Matt Dawson in the 2003 WC final. But then who takes the DG? Hogg? Russell? Wouldn’t put it past Jonny Gray given he does everything else!!

    The only member of that team I’ve ever seen go for a DG is Stuart Hogg with his halfway line attempts a couple of seasons back.

    Another 9 on and Laidlaw to 10 could have possibly worked because Price may have been willing to snipe – risk there is that everyone’s knackered and he’d probably have been swallowed by the Pooper. Penalty Aus, game over.

    Not sure our pack also had the nous to play for/pull off the DG. Not a criticism, but when do you ever see Edinburgh or Glasgow setting them up? The forwards need to be securing the right ball, in the right place, and positioning blockers to protect the kicker. That can’t just be thought up after 79 mins of a game – it’s the kind of thing which comes with practice and experience of getting it wrong.

    Vs Argentina I’d like to see:
    Dell (would have Dickinson if fit)
    Ford (only for the bulk – would rather Brown with McInally on the bench but props not ideal)
    Fagerson
    Gray
    Gray
    Barclay
    Watson
    Bradbury (he’s earned it)
    Laidlaw
    Russell
    Seymour
    Dunbar
    Jones
    Maitland
    Hogg

    Reid (or Allan, not too fussed – Reid not great last weekend)
    Brown
    Low (not a fan but no alternatives)
    Toolis (not in squad, I know… but better than Gilchrist or Swinson)
    Du Preez (imagine having him come on and run at people after 55 mins)
    Price
    Horne (no alternative to cover 10)
    Bennett (Taylor if fit)

  3. Calum on

    I know they don’t quite have the bulk, but I would love to see a combination of Jones and Bennett in midfield. They are both only 22 and if the combination worked it could potentially be one of the all time great centre partnerships.

    • Calum on

      Saying that the team I would pick would be
      Dell, Ford, Fagerson, Gray, Gray, Barcley, Watson, Strauss (Du Preez if Strauss not fit)
      Pyrgos, Russell, Seymour, Dunbar, Jones, Maitland, Hogg

      McInally, Dickinson, Low, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Price, Bennett, Taylor

  4. JohnMc on

    Good article, Kevin. I’m sure the coaches and players will have been attending to all the areas you point up. We’ve had a tendency in recent years to put in the odd mighty performance and then not quite follow it up in the next game. It would be great to see all the positives from last Saturday and lessons learned too taken forward to the Argentina Test. And a win this time. Really wishing I could get up there this Saturday because the atmosphere at Murrayfield last Saturday was electric.

  5. Grojsean on

    Dell, Ford, Fagerson
    Gray, Gray
    Barclay, Bradbury, Watson

    Laidlaw
    Russell
    Hoyland, Dunbar, Jones, Seymour
    Hogg

    Allan, Brown, Low, Gilchrist, Du Preez, Price, Horne, Hughes.

    • Frazer on

      That’s pretty much the 23 I would choose except have Bennett in for Horne and Maitland for Hughes, although I’d have Hughes ready for a cap against Georgia.

      Incidentally, does anyone know what the issue was with Seymour last weekend? I know he pulled out for personal reasons but these were unspecified.

  6. The Chiel on

    It’s a good article and highlights the ongoing problems. With coaches like BVC I really don’t understand that restarts in particular, which have been a problem over a period of time, don’t seem to get any better. Can’t say Glasgow or Edinburgh sparkle at this either.
    Had to smile at the bit about Laidlaw taking on too long a penalty – absolutely agree with the comment, but he’s also been given pelters for a while now for being too safe and preserving his percentage !

  7. Gks on

    Just on a positive I can’t remember seeing Scotland competing in that fashion against a tri nation team and I include the quarter final match where being fair we were riding our luck a bit for the whole game. This team could beat anyone at murrayfield with a fair wind. I think 1.85 at the bookies is generous. ‘Mon Scotland.

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